It’s not about the national anthem, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the bus.

I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]

For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.

Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:

If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee

Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.

 

Fuel for running – and life

It’s been a while since I have blogged, life has been hectic as I prepare to move from Austin to the San Francisco Bay area – I’ll be the new Provost at Menlo College starting in July. As always, running is one of the ways I deal with stress, and I’ll be running a 5k this evening, the Trail Foundation’s Margarita Run. Given that it will be hot, humid and I’m tired from traveling, I have to think carefully about how I will prepare myself for tonight’s run. For me there are four distinct phases of fueling a run. The first is what I eat for my regular meals. I try to avoid running on empty – I always eat something before a race, and I’m blessed with a digestive system that can handle almost anything before a run. When I ran track in college, I would always be in the first event of the day, the long jump, and the last, the 4×400 relay, so I learned early on that I had to be able to eat and run.

These days, if it’s a morning run, I’ll often eat some yogurt and/or a banana, and for the second phase of my run, the actual run itself, it depends on how far I am going. If I’m running more than an hour, I always take water, and some gel, chew or other type of fuel. I used to drink a lot of Gatorade, but found that I wanted to control my water vs sugar intake a bit better, depending on the heat and humidity.

In many ways, I find that music is another way to fuel my run, so I’ll call it the third phase.  I usually listen to dance music to keep me going. Songs by Michael Jackson, Prince, or the latest pop or R&B is fine, I’m usually into my head so that I’m mostly focused on the beat.  I don’t always use music, only for longer runs. If I’m running less than an hour, I like to use the time to work through problems in my head, or just zone out for a while.

The fourth phase of my run is recovery, which starts with stretching and some drills to strengthen problem areas. This is also where I usually treat myself to a hot chai latte, or hot chocolate. I use almond milk instead of cow’s milk, but it gives me the protein and carbs my muscles need to recover from a run. I will sometimes take supplements that help with recovery if I’m training intensively, but I haven’t done a marathon in a while, and I’m sticking mainly with 5ks and 10ks with the occasional half marathon thrown in. I find that if I have been doing my training right, the recovery from these types of races isn’t much of a problem.

I always have to keep in mind that I am getting older (50!) and I have always paid attention to my back issues, meaning I have to make sure that I have strong abs. I switch up my cross training on a regular basis to keep myself from getting bored, and train different types of muscles. I have all the tools I need at home to do a variety of workouts, including kettle bells, dumb bells, a medicine ball, and I’ll even do some hula hoop when it’s nice out. I focus on my abs with some pilates, yoga and just plain old fashioned push ups and sit ups. Every few years I’ll meet with a personal trainer to get some training tips and learning the latest ideas on staying in shape.

Overall, I find that it’s important to maintain a regular workout routine to keep my energy levels up during the day, reduce stress, and to sleep well at night. I look at running as important to both my physical and mental well being. I need fuel to keep running, but running and working out is my fuel for life.

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When I'm running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!
When I’m running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!

Realistic expectations: 3M Race Report 2015

In October 2013 I set a goal for myself – as I celebrated my 50th year (I turned 50 in October 2014) I would run one race per month for the next year. As of January 2015 I have run 15 races in 16 months including 5 half marathons. My streak ends here, although I will continue running, of course. It’s time to take a break, do some other types of exercise at least until the Capitol 10k.  So here’s the report from my most recent race, the 3M half marathon on Sunday.

I had high hopes for this race a few month ago, perhaps of even running close to my previous PR of under 1:45. However, December brought the flu and a sinus infection that slowed me down.  So I lowered my expectations, focused mainly on finishing and enjoying the journey. As always, I run with my angels, and they were definitely with me. It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp as the sun rose in north Austin. It was great to connect with my girls from Black Girls Run before the race.

Black Girls (and guys) Run!

The first half of the race was fast, I stuck with the 1:45 group for a while, about through mile 3, then watched them move ahead – the 1:50 pace group didn’t catch me until about mile 7, and given that I’m planning to focus on 5 and 10ks in the spring, I figured it was a good workout to stay close to an 8 minute pace up to that point. The rest of the race was much slower, but I finished in about 1:54, a solid time for me.

This is not me – this woman won the race, she is young and fast!

As I was going up the hill on MLK I heard a voice behind me, it was Pam LeBlanc – we finished the hill together and then I had to do my trademark finish, striding it out to the end. Every race holds a lesson for me and this one was that it’s OK to stay within your limits. Sometimes just crossing the finish line is its own reward.

Made it! And even got to finish with Pam! Race report later...
Me with Pam LeBlanc

And with Superbowl Sunday just around the corner, must do a shout out to my ‘hawks!

New year, new resolve

A year later, the heartache remains, but as with all loss, life must go on, and I know that is what my loved ones would want in any case. Every day I feel the presence of my parents, my brother Rick, my niece Melissa who we lost a year ago today, Uncle Clarence, and little Madeline. Hearts break and hearts eventually mend, and I have tried to focus on the love that was shared and that is still an integral part of who I am.  There are so many people who have touched my life and helped me move forward, I can’t begin to mention them all — from my high school friends, many of whom I have been able to reconnect with in the last few years, to my friends in Austin who have made our 11 years here so amazing.

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions because they tend to be short-sighted and hard to keep. What I prefer is to look at what I found to be most helpful over the past few years, and how I can focus on those things going forward. I have always been very disciplined about running, it is an integral part of my life that will continue, with some help from my chiropractor (Dan Powers) and massage therapist (Marshall Williams). For me it is about self-care, taking the time to be sure that I am healthy, but I also just love the feeling of running and working out, feeling my strength (kicking some butt along the way!) and reaching my goals. I feel truly blessed to be 50 years old and still out there competing as an athlete.

I have many writing projects (besides my blogs) that I hope to build on, and my students who I hope to get to the next level, whether it is an academic job or some other endeavor. I will be taking the next step in my career, whatever that may be, and I plan to focus on what is best not only for me, but for my family.

Music has always been a part of my life, and my son Brandon inspires me as he progresses in learning classical guitar (you can see him playing here). I bought myself a mandolin for my birthday and I plan to carve out time to play and enjoy making music, again it’s about self-care.

I’m looking forward to sharing new experiences with my boys, I’ll be heading to Italy with Andrew on his class trip for Spring break, and both boys will be changing schools as Brandon moves to middle school and Andrew move  to high school (!). Finally, I plan to carve out time with my wonderful husband, Mike, who celebrated his birthday yesterday. We focus so much on our kids but we always manage to squeeze in time alone together, going to see the symphony or a jazz show.

I have an amazing life, and I thank all of you who are a part of it, you are loved.

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The Givens Family -- All 9 of us!
The Givens Family — All 9 of us!
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
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Black Girls Run!
Melissa Marsh
Melissa Marsh

Belize: CAVES! Barton Creek Cave, Cave Tubing & ATM

We are back in Austin and I wanted to take a little time to process our trip before writing this post on Belize.  Belize’s geology includes lots of limestone which leads to the development of caves.  They have many cave systems that were also used by the Maya as long as 1300 years ago. I hadn’t read much on the caves, and our guidebook didn’t give much detail on them.  I was very glad that we had a guide with us who could explain some of the reasons the Maya were thought to have used the caves.  We started this lesson during our trip to Xunantunich, where our guide Edgar explained that in Mayan mythology the caves were the underworld and where water came from.  When drought hit, the Mayans headed to the caves to try appeal to their gods for relief, and toward the end of the Mayans habitation of the sites like Xunantunich, they appeared to become more desperate and offered human sacrifices along with food and prayers.

We began our cave exploration with Barton Creek Cave, near San Ignacio.

IMG_2050 IMG_2083They have found evidence that the Maya used this cave for ceremonial purposes, and there are still some shards of pottery on ledges where they may have performed ceremonial rites.  There were lots of interesting formations in the cave:

IMG_2091 IMG_2068 IMG_2058 IMG_2051After the canoe trip through the cave, we went to the nearby butterfly “ranch” where the owner gave us a tour and talked about the various species that they breed and a “walking stick” that likes to hang out around the butterflies:IMG_2103 IMG_2107 IMG_2108 IMG_2112 IMG_2125

There was also a great variety of hummingbirds who would come to the feeders and even sit on branches for their portraits!IMG_2142 IMG_2137 IMG_2136The next day was dedicated to cave tubing, but the boys couldn’t resist trying out the zipline first:IMG_2150 IMG_2147After the thrill of zip-lining we had a long hike through the jungle with our inner tubes to get to the mouth of the cave:

IMG_2167 IMG_2177 IMG_2174The water was fairly low, so we often had to follow the rule of “butts up” to avoid hitting rocks, but we had a great float through the caves. Our guide told us stories about Mayan culture and history, and how they revered the caves as the underworld.  Lots of great formations, like in Barton Creek Cave. At the end, we had a nice float in the open, through a few small rapids – it was great fun:

IMG_2179 IMG_2185 IMG_2184That day ended with a visit to the Mayan site Cahal Pech. This site is currently being excavated so there were a few archeologists there who could answer some of our questions – they are working to fix some of the damage done in the 1990s by previous archeologists who tried to reconstruct parts of the site using bad methods.

IMG_2192The next day, however, was truly the most magnificient cave – we definitely saved the best for last.  Aktun Tinichil Muknal (aka, ATM Cave) was discovered in the late 1980s and has remained untouched (for the most part) and unexcavated so that visitors could enjoy the site as it was originally found, with artifacts left by the Maya exactly as they were 1000 years ago.  It is also known as the cave of the “Crystal Maiden” for the skeleton that lies at the end of the tour, at the to of a grotto.  They actually aren’t sure if it is male or female, but the presumption is that this body and several others whose bones you can see were ritual sacrifices.  We weren’t able to take any pictures, but check out this video to get an idea of what the interior of the cave is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW9bdBVPeDQ

It was a pretty strenuous hike to get to the cave, then we started by swimming into the entrance and hiking through several narrow passages, in an out of the water.  To get to the main site of the artifacts, we had to climb a ladder, and then scramble on our knees through a narrow slippery area.  I still have a bruise or two and skinned knees to show for the effort, but it was totally worth it.  I would do it again for sure! This was definitely the highlight of our stay in the Cayo district.

From Caye Caulker to San Ignacio, Cayo district

We left Caye Caulker this morning to head to our jungle adventure in the Cayo district near San Ignacio.  My least favorite part of this trip so far was the water taxi ride from Caye Caulker to Belize City.  They really pack people into the boats and it wasn’t particularly comfortable.  It made me very glad that we decided to fly from Belize City to San Pedro after we arrived last Friday.  I do have to say that the staff of the water taxi service were very nice and helped us out as much as possible, it’s just a very busy route.

We rented a four-wheel drive jeep in Belize City with Crystal Auto Rental, which is owned by a Texan who has run this business for 25 years.  They were very helpful with maps and driving rules, etc…Getting to San Ignacio wasn’t a problem, but once we got there it got very confusing very quickly – lots of road construction going on, but we made our way to downtown where we got some lunch for our hungry boys. I wasn’t particularly impressed with San Ignacio, but it is low season, and we were there during a big World Cup soccer match (England v. Uruguay), so maybe things are better there during the winter high season.

We are staying about 45 minutes outside of San Ignacio, mainly because Black Rock Lodge is waaaaay out from the main highway, through a farm via dirt road. However, once we got there, it’s a fabulous place. Lots of nice people to meet, hiking swimming in the Macal river, great food and drink.  We went for a swim in the river after we arrived this afternoon, and will do some early morning birding, hiking and tubing on the river tomorrow.

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Belize: Caye Caulker

Today is our only full day in Caye Caulker.  Mike and Andrew went on a SCUBA outing while Brandon and I did a snorkel trip with The Caveman — it was awesome.  We saw manatees, sea turtles, sharks, and we were even chased by a moray eel!  Even the Caveman had never seen that happen before.  He really took care of us and it was a small group, just one other couple besides me and Brandon.  They didn’t speak much English, so I ended up doing some translating — good for practicing my French. There was some excitement when a big moray eel decided to come up out of it’s hole and chase us around a bit…but it eventually went away with some discouraging kicks of the fins. Swimming with the nurse sharks was cool, saw lots of rays as well.

The Caveman!
The Caveman!
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Brandon getting ready to snorkel
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Feeding tarpon

 

 

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Tarpon waiting for some sardines – I actually fed one from my hand.
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A view of the split from the channel

We had a great time, as did Mike and Andrew.  We were all tired, and so we just headed down to the bar at the split to watch some soccer and relax.  Dinner was at Terry’s grill, which is just around the corner from our hotel. He also does BBQ across from our hotel on the beach during the day. We had lobster again – not sure when we’ll be back, and it probably won’t be lobster season.  Tomorrow we head back to Belize City and then on to the jungle around San Ignacio.